Their Eyes Were Watching God
How we cite our quotes:
That [Joe running a post office] irritated Hicks and he didn’t know why. He was the average mortal. It troubled him to get used to the world one way and then suddenly have it turn different. He wasn’t ready to think of colored people in post offices yet. (5.70)
Because Hicks is "the average mortal," Joe’s quick advancement into a position that only white men have previously occupied makes Hicks jealous. It defies his concept of what it means to be black and human; that Hicks is described as "mortal" implies that Joe is a god. Hick’s jealousy and uneasiness quickly turns into outward denial.
Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife of the Mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit. It was especially noticeable after Joe had forced through a town ditch to drain the street in front of the store. They had murmured hotly about slavery being over, but every man filled his assignment. (5.128)
As Janie explains, her marriage to the mayor of the town makes her a part of that authority in the eyes of the town, so the townspeople hold her at a distance. The people of Eatonville hold Janie to a double standard; they place her in a position of superiority but they also reserve the right to be bitterly jealous of her. The same goes for Joe. Such is the public mentality.
Take for instance that new house of his. It had two stories with porches, with banisters and such things. The rest of the town looked like servants’ quarters surrounding the "big house." And different from everybody else in the town he put off moving in until it had been painted, in and out. And look at the way he painted it – a gloaty, sparkly white. The kind of promenading white that the houses of Bishop Whipple, W.B. Jackson and the Vanderpool’s wore. It made the village feel funny talking to him – just like he was anybody else. Then there was the matter of the spittoons. No sooner was he all set as the Mayor – post master – landlord – storekeeper, than he bought a desk like Mr. Hill or Mr. Galloway over in Maitland with one of those swing-around chairs to it. What with him biting down on cigars and saving his breath on talk and swinging round in that chair, it weakened people. And then he spit in that gold-looking vase that anybody else would have been glad to put on their front-room table. Said it was a spittoon just like his used-to-be bossman used to have in his bank up there in Atlanta. Didn’t have to get up and go to the door every time he had to spit. Didn’t spit on his floor neither. Had that golded-up spitting pot right handy. But he went further than that. He bought a little lady-size spitting pot for Janie to spit in. Had it right in the parlor with little sprigs of flowers painted all around the sides It took people by surprise because most of the women dipped snuff and of course had a spit-cup in the house. But how could they know up-to-date folks was spitting in flowery little things like that? It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things had been kept from them. Maybe more things in the world besides spitting pots had been hid from them, when they wasn’t told no better than to spit in tomato cans. It was bad enough for white people, but when one of your own color could be so different it put you on a wonder. It was like seeing your sister turn into a ‘gator. A familiar strangeness. You keep seeing your sister in the ‘gator and the ‘gator in your sister and you’d rather not. There was no doubt that the town respected him and even admired him in a way. But any man who walks in the way of power and property is bound to meet hate. (5.130)
Though Joe is indeed mayor, he takes every opportunity to flaunt his superiority to the common townspeople. His house, unnecessarily big. The home is "gloaty" and "sparkly," implying a degree of arrogance and falseness that grates on the townspeople’s nerves. Similarly, the decorative spittoons that Joe busy for himself and Janie are pretentious shows of wealth, objects that humbler people would’ve cherished as vases. All this arrogance is made worse by the fact that Joe is undeniably black, a man who is supposed to be their equal. Joe seems to want everyone to envy him, and they do. Maybe he doesn’t realize that with envy comes hate as well as admiration.